Thursday, March 15, 2007

The thing about Penge

If you go around telling people you live in Sydenham, as I have had to do these past few weeks, you often enough end up talking about Penge, down the road. Sydenham isn't much of a topic, whereas Penge has a sort of inverse glamour. It may be something to do with Robert Rankin (I'm told) or Rumpole's "Penge bungalow murders", or the name being carried through town on the front of the 176 bus; more likely it's just the comedy of the sound, and the tinge of dull suburbia it now carries. Looking in Russ Willey's Chambers London Gazetteer (which also reminded me about Rumpole) it appears that Penge is "one of the few Celtic place names in London, and suggests the survival of a British contingent after Anglo-Saxon colonisation". The sense of grimly hanging on has hung on: it's now, going by its Chambers entry, the roughest end of a relatively posh borough (Bromley) having had the rough end of the Crystal Palace building boom. This is the magnificently sneery write-up it gets in James Thorne's Handbook to the Environs of London (1876):

Fifty years ago Penge was only spoken of as a common, and the maps show hardly a house upon it (...) Then "the plague of building lighted upon it;" spread more rapidly when Penge Place was taken for the Crystal Palace, Penge Woods was partly absorbed in the palace grounds, and the rest, doubly attractive from its proximity to that popular resort, given over to the builder; and culminated when a Freehold Building Society bought what had been spared of the Common for distribution among its members. Now, Penge is a town in size and population, in appearance a waste of modern tenements, mean, monotonous and wearisome. It has 3 churches, many chapels, schools, hotels, "offices" of all sorts, shops, 4 or 5 rly. stations, and whatever may be looked for in a new suburban rly. town.

I suspect that last sentence is less than half praise.

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